Accused of a fallacy? Suspect a fallacy? Ask Dr. Bo and the community!

Quickly register to comment, ask and respond to questions, and get FREE access to our passive online course on cognitive biases!
Register!

one moment please...


Questions? Friendly Debate? Deep Conversations? Be a Call-in Guest on the Dr. Bo Show!

Appeal to Extremes

Description: Erroneously attempting to make a reasonable argument into an absurd one, by taking the argument to the extremes. Note that this is not a valid reductio ad absurdum.

Logical Form:

If X is true, then Y must also be true (where Y is the extreme of X).

Example #1:

There is no way those Girl Scouts could have sold all those cases of cookies in one hour.  If they did, they would have to make $500 in one hour, which, based on an 8 hour day is over a million dollars a year.  That is more than most lawyers, doctors, and successful business people make!

Explanation: The Girl Scouts worked just for one hour -- not 40 per week for a year.  Suggesting the extreme leads to an absurd conclusion; that Girl Scouts are among the highest paid people in the world.   Not to mention, there is a whole troop of them doing the work, not just one girl.

Example #2:

Don’t forget God’s commandment, “thou shall not kill”.  By using mouthwash, you are killing 99.9% of the germs that cause bad breath.  Prepare for Hell.

Explanation: It is unlikely that God had mouthwash on his mind when issuing that commandment, but if he did, we’re all screwed (at least those of us with fresh breath).

Exception: This fallacy is a misuse of one of the greatest techniques in argumentation, reductio ad absurdum, or reducing the argument to the absurd.  The difference is where the absurdity actually is in the argument or in the reasoning of the one trying to show the argument is absurd.

Here is an example of an argument that is proven false by reducing to the absurd, legitimately.

Big Tony: The more you exercise, the stronger you will get!

Nerdy Ned: Actually, if you just kept exercising and never stopped, you would eventually drop dead.  There is a limit to how much exercise you should get.

Tip: People very often say stupid things.  Sometimes it is easy to reduce their arguments to absurdity, but remember, in most cases, your goal should be diplomacy, not making the other person look foolish.  Especially when dealing with your spouse—unless you really like sleeping on the couch.

References:

This a logical fallacy frequently used on the Internet. No academic sources could be found.



Registered User Comments

Stefan
Wednesday, May 01, 2019 - 10:21:53 AM
I've either misunderstood this or don't agree! You appear to be saying that:

If X is true, then Y must also be true (where Y is the extreme of X).

is the expression of a logical fallacy.

However, if we turn into into something mathematical, to remove any doubt:
"If X={all natural numbers from 1 to 10 are less than 10} is true, then Y={10 is less than 10} must also be true".
Is a perfectly logical statement. It's therefore perfectly reasonable to point out that 10 is not less than 10 and hence the original proposition (X) is wrong. Why is this a logical fallacy?

login to reply
3 replies
1 votes
 
Reply To Comment
working...
 

Bo Bennett, PhD
Wednesday, May 01, 2019 - 12:33:42 PM
This is an informal fallacy, so these logical formulas are general patterns rather than logical rule. You are correct, in the mathematical example you provide, this is not fallacious.

login to reply
 
0 votes
 
Reply To Comment
working...
 

Milos Bilanovic
Tuesday, September 24, 2019 - 11:03:57 AM
Your example is an exception, just as stated at the end of this page. But why is this an exception? Keep in mind that this mathematical example of yours is constructed in a way that already has an obvious false X statement ( it is obvious to all that 10 cant be less than 10). This isnt the case in everyday arguments where X statement is not self-contradictory, so we need to find a consequence Y which can reduce this statement X to absurd. This is usually done by finding extreme consequence Y which follows from statement X. And only now comes this fallacy of appealing to extremes where debater tries to find such extreme case Y. But instead of finding the case Y which necessary follows from statement X and which can reduce X to absurd, debater finds case Y which really is extreme consequence of statement X and really can reduce X to absurd but doesnt follow necessarily from X. And so, now we come to fallacious reasoning in which the debater tries to reduce statement X to absurd by appealing to some extreme consequence Y which doesnt necessarily follow from statement X. That leaves the room of some other consequence Z being the case rather than Y.

login to reply
 
0 votes
 
Reply To Comment
working...
 

Milos Bilanovic
Tuesday, September 24, 2019 - 11:11:01 AM
@Milos Bilanovic: now you can understand why is your example an exception- your consequence Y necessarily follows from statement X and that makes your reductio ad absurdum complete

login to reply
 
0 votes
 
Reply To Comment
working...

Jacob
Monday, March 19, 2018 - 07:45:48 AM
This is an argument I have encountered on the internet in the wake of the metoo movement.

"If a woman's account of being raped is put under scrutiny then women will not feel safe in coming forward about legitimate cases of rape."

Is this an example of the appeal to extremes fallacy? The above statement suggests that a woman's account of being raped should never be questioned. All serious accusations, not just rape, need to be questioned to make sure innocent people are not punished. Assuming that our legal system is reasonably effective at determining the difference between legitimate and false accounts of rape then it is acceptable and necessary to question a woman's account of being raped because this is how we find out if the guy did it or not. The statement assumes an extreme outcome which would not happen, that legitimate victims will not come to the authorities if they know that their accounts will be tested for veracity.

login to reply
4 replies
0 votes
 
Reply To Comment
working...
 

Bo Bennett, PhD
Monday, March 19, 2018 - 09:57:40 AM
This would be an example. Without the alarmist spin, reality is

"If a woman's account of being raped is put under scrutiny then some women will feel less safe in coming forward about legitimate cases of rape."

We need to balance the pros and cons. The cons being that some women will be less likely to come forward when raped and the pros being innocent people not being found guilty or their reputations destroyed.

login to reply
 
2 votes
 
Reply To Comment
working...
 

Andy Edwards
Sunday, June 09, 2019 - 02:44:13 AM
Speaking of punishment, is there a term for the "but he's a criminal, screw him"-type argument some people use to excuse police shooting people with criminal records, ignoring the fact that the law seeks to guarantee even criminals from cruel and unusual punishment?

login to reply
 
0 votes
 
Reply To Comment
working...
 

Bo Bennett, PhD
Sunday, June 09, 2019 - 06:45:28 AM
@Andy Edwards: I think this is more of the result of having a different concept of justice (or not knowing the facts). If one thinks all criminals deserve to get shot, they might respond this way.

login to reply
 
0 votes
 
Reply To Comment
working...
 

Jacob
Sunday, June 09, 2019 - 12:34:55 PM
@Andy Edwards: I have a friend who was accused of rape. The courts have been on his side and he was won a suit against his accusers. He was cheating on his wife with the woman who accused him. Many people thought that being accused of rape was a just punishment for a cheater. I had a tough time explaining to people that rape is way worse than cheating, and that cheaters should he treated like cheaters and not like rapists.

login to reply
 
0 votes
 
Reply To Comment
working...

Andy Edwards
Sunday, June 09, 2019 - 02:37:59 AM
In the case of Nerdy Ned's retort, what is the term for the fallacy of taking someone's words too literally? Obviously Big Tony is not saying that it's beneficial to never stop exercising, so Nerdy Ned's point is fairly irrelevant (it would be much more relevant to mention CrossFitters who have gotten Rhabdomyolysis from exercising too hard)

login to reply
1 reply
0 votes
 
Reply To Comment
working...
 

Bo Bennett, PhD
Sunday, June 09, 2019 - 06:43:04 AM
There is a difference between the use of creative metaphor and problematic hyperbole. In this case, Big Tony is using the latter by making a false claim that cause harm in the realistic case of over training. Nerdy Ned's response is justified. Had Big Tony said something such as "Working out can give you arms like cannons," and Nerdy Ned objected based on a literal interpretation of that, then he is just being unnecessarily argumentative, pedantic, or perhaps he has Aspergers.

login to reply
 
0 votes
 
Reply To Comment
working...

John
Saturday, March 24, 2018 - 10:48:41 AM
In the case of the “thou shall not kill”, isn’t using the argument “god unlikely had mouthwash on his mind” ad hoc, an thus fallacious?

login to reply
6 replies
0 votes
 
Reply To Comment
working...
 

Bo Bennett, PhD
Saturday, March 24, 2018 - 11:00:55 AM
It's not a serious argument. If it were, the bigger problem would be that I would be begging the question that God exists and the commandments came from God.

login to reply
 
0 votes
 
Reply To Comment
working...
 

John
Saturday, March 24, 2018 - 11:10:17 AM
@Bo Bennett, PhD: tough I agree with you don’t you agree whether it is a serious argument or not is entirely subjective and thus not self evident?

login to reply
 
0 votes
 
Reply To Comment
working...
 

John
Saturday, March 24, 2018 - 11:18:51 AM
@Bo Bennett, PhD: I mean, isn’t that and appeal to self evident true, or I am doing ad infinitum? (I’m not trying to be an smart in case it looks like that)

login to reply
 
0 votes
 
Reply To Comment
working...
 

Bo Bennett, PhD
Saturday, March 24, 2018 - 11:20:06 AM
@John: Yes. If your point is I should explain all my jokes... well, ask any humorist how that works out ;) Those who don't get the humor might simply accuse me a of a fallacy. I am okay with that.

login to reply
 
0 votes
 
Reply To Comment
working...
 

John
Saturday, March 24, 2018 - 11:22:21 AM
@Bo Bennett, PhD: I didn’t know it was a joke, sorry about that.. see that’s the problem of internet communication haha

login to reply
 
0 votes
 
Reply To Comment
working...
 

Andy Edwards
Sunday, June 09, 2019 - 02:45:33 AM
@Bo Bennett, PhD: I especially enjoyed the line "prepare for hell" hahahaha

login to reply
 
1 votes
 
Reply To Comment
working...

Krista Neckles
Monday, May 28, 2018 - 03:24:31 PM
Hello Sir,

What is the difference between committng the "appeal to extremes" fallacy and committing the " strawman fallacy"?

Thank you in advance.

login to reply
2 replies
0 votes
 
Reply To Comment
working...
 

Bo Bennett, PhD
Monday, May 28, 2018 - 06:58:45 PM
Unlike the strawman, the appeal to extremes does not imply that the arguer is making the argument; the argument is changed by the person committing the fallacy without deception. "I understand your argument which is X (X is exactly the argument being made), but if that is true, then Y must also be true (which is absurd)!" The problem is, it is not true that Y is a necessary conclusion from X.

login to reply
 
1 votes
 
Reply To Comment
working...
 

Krista Neckles
Tuesday, May 29, 2018 - 09:53:37 PM
@Bo Bennett, PhD: Thank you.

login to reply
 
0 votes
 
Reply To Comment
working...


Become a Logical Fallacy Master. Choose Your Poison.

Logically Fallacious is one of the most comprehensive collections of logical fallacies with all original examples and easy to understand descriptions; perfect for educators, debaters, or anyone who wants to improve his or her reasoning skills.

Get the book, Logically Fallacious by Bo Bennett, PhD by selecting one of the following options:


Not Much of a Reader? No Problem!

Enroll in the Mastering Logical Fallacies Online Course. Over 10 hours of video and interactive learning. Go beyond the book!

Enroll in the Fallacy-A-Day Passive Course. Sit back and learn fallacies the easy way—in just a few minutes per day, via e-mail delivery.

Have a podcast or know someone who does? Putting on a conference? Dr. Bennett is available for interviews and public speaking events. Contact him directly here.


About Archieboy Holdings, LLC. Privacy Policy Other Books Written by Bo
 Website Software Copyright 2019, Archieboy Holdings, LLC.